Short Fiction ~ Judith Segal
Honourable Mention, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 14
I come out of Harvey’s Ladies’ Fashion Emporium feeling very pleased with myself. One raincoat, two cardigans and two skirts, all half-price. In my jubilation, I almost trip over the young girl squatting in the doorway, sheltering from the rain. I’m afraid to say beggars are a common sight in our town. Rumour has it they come down from London drawn by the potential for rich pickings in our High Street.
I bend over the girl. ‘Would you like a sandwich? Or perhaps a coffee?’ I know you’re not supposed to give beggars money since they’ll only spend it on drugs.
She looks up at me, startled. My heart melts. She’s only young, late teens at most, the same age as my Catherine. She’s thin, painfully so, arms like – like matchsticks, and, I’m afraid to say, she smells. It’s clear neither she nor her clothes have been near cleaning products for some time.
‘No, thank you,’ she says in an accent I can’t place. ‘Is it very busy in there?’ She nods towards the shop.
‘Not very,’ I reply. ‘There isn’t much left on the sale rails. Most of the best stuff has gone.’
‘Might as well try somewhere else,’ she says, attempting to get up onto her feet and failing.
I take her arm to help her and am shocked by how weak she is.
‘That’s what comes of not eating properly,’ I say sternly. It’s what I used to tell Catherine when, aged thirteen, she’d bemoan her acne. She’d refuse my healthy, home-cooked supper and then gobble up a whole packet of biscuits.
‘It’s hard to find proper food,’ the girl says, holding onto my arm and straightening herself up with difficulty.
I refrain from reminding her of the proffered sandwich, and ask her her name. She mumbles something which I have to request her to repeat.
‘Angrita!’ I say, impressed. ‘Never heard that one before.’ I suppose her parents couldn’t decide between Angela with a hard g and Rita, and compromised by combining the two. ‘Now, where do you want to go?’
‘Where else has a sale?’ asks Angrita, still holding onto my arm.
‘Plenty of places. But what do you want to buy?’
She looks at me as though I’d asked her if she wanted to go to Timbuktu. I begin to wonder whether she’s all there or whether her brain has been fried. Catherine tells me it’s common knowledge among the local youth that amphetamines are freely available in the Town Hall car park and crack cocaine is sold openly on the steps behind the Baptist Church. Not, she hastens to assure me, that she’s ever had anything to do with either.
‘I don’t want to buy anything,’ Angrita replies. ‘It’s just that people get angry at sales. They find the exact dress they’ve always wanted at twenty pounds off but it’s a size too small, or the person in front of them buys the last half-price microwave.’
A woman bursts out of Harvey’s, sees the rain driving in horizontal spears and fumbles in her carrier bag for an umbrella.
‘Bloody weather,’ she says to us. ‘In August. And it’s so cold as well. I blame all those bloody vegans for having jackfruit jetted in from Java. All those carbon dioxide emissions. Why can’t they be happy with marrows like the rest of us?’
Angrita smiles sweetly at her.
‘I suppose it takes all sorts,’ says the woman, softening. She unfurls her umbrella. ‘The rain will please the gardeners at least.’ She marches off, holding the umbrella in front of her like a battering ram.
‘I feel a bit better now,’ says Angrita. ‘Oh bother, here comes that crazy vegan lady. Let’s duck round this corner.’
“That crazy vegan lady” is a fixture around our town, parading placards bearing slogans such as “Only Zombies Eat Flesh”. She arouses a lot of negative comments in local face-book pages by her habit of standing outside primary schools brandishing toy woolly baa-lambs and demanding to know of five-year olds why they eat such things.
‘What do you have against the crazy vegan lady?’ I ask Angrita, following her round the corner.
‘She’s just too angry for me,’ says Angrita. ‘Too much anger makes me ill.’
Oh dear, I think. Could this be another symptom of a fried brain?
I peep round the corner. ‘The vegan lady’s gone,’ I say. ‘SavePlenty has just opened a new butchery counter. I suppose she must be hovering outside, laying curses on all who enter.’
We emerge back onto the High Street. Suddenly Angrita grips my arm.
‘What’s that noise?’ she asks. ‘It sounds like people marching.’
‘That must be the People’s Park demonstration.’ I explain that the council have decided to make the little park next to the river into a wildflower meadow. Save on the cost of gardeners. A few sheep should keep the grass down.
‘Conservation and cost savings,’ says Angrita. ‘What a good idea.’
‘The good people of our town don’t think so,’ I say. ‘They want a polite park with regimented rows of geraniums bordered by lobelia, and perhaps a couple of well-behaved ducks on a pond. Somewhere nice where they can eat their sandwiches.’
‘Can’t they do that in a wildflower meadow?’
‘No. Sheep pellets. Bees. Miscellaneous creepy-crawlies.’
The noise of people protesting grows louder, and then there they are, coming over the brow of the hill at the top of the High Street and threatening to engulf us. They are waving banners and shouting slogans. “Save our Salvias!”, “Protect our Petunias!” The crazy vegan lady’s banner says “Stop The Exploitation Of Sheep!”
Angrita shrinks into the doorway of Smith’s The Stationers. ‘Too much anger! I can’t bear it!’
And before my eyes, she diffuses through the window, melts into a display of geometry sets and atlases, and is gone.
I shake my head in wonderment. And then I realise Angrita is not her name. It’s who she is. Or was. An anger eater.
Judith Segal began writing creative fiction after she retired from an academic career in Maths and Computing She has written a memoir which appeared in The London Magazine but this is her first purely fictional publication.